SXSW Interactive Is Dead

Categories: SXSW, Tech
sxswi.jpg
Image of a VIP fence via Flickr/Adrants

No annual festival, conference, or party will ever be as good as the first year you went. That's not what I'm talking about when I say that South by Southwest Interactive died this year.

Earlier this week, Jolie O'Dell wrote the usual "Why SXSW Sucks" post. The ReadWriteWeb blogger said the same vague shit people say every year: It's bigger, I don't feel as close to everyone. And somebody stole her laptop! Yeah, duh. I overheard a guy in a hotel lobby talking about all the work he was offloading on his developer team and actually using the phrase, "drill down on this next week and re-synch." But that social media douchebag language is unfortunately ubiquitous in our industry. And people are more likely to steal your belongings if you're careless at parties.

The Interactive portion of the conference drew over 12,000 attendees this year, and the rumor going round is this is the first year that Interactive has more badge-holders than Music. But the same rumor went around last year, and who cares, Music's still got all the wrist-banders too. Burning Man gets bigger every year, but it's (reportedly) pretty much as cool as ever. What's different at this year's SXSWi?

Two things ...

The prevalence of non-tech

The Chevy concept cars, the Sobe Lounge, the Zone Bar Lounge, the Snacks for People in Lounges Lounge ... More than ever, SXSWi is just a mass of people ready to be sold the same shit everyone else gets sold. At least the AOL Seed Lounge (disclosure: I edit a blog for AOL) was advertising a technology and provided public laptops, where one could sit and write about how SXSW is dying. But the crass commercialization of non-tech sponsors is turning SXSWi into another generic mega-conference: A better money-maker with less focus and respect for its attendees. We are hungry mouths waiting for free protein bars and Starbucks Via. This can't happen at Burning Man, because Burning Man eschews all corporate sponsorship. But did it have to happen at SXSWi? Was the money from Microsoft and AOL not sufficiently complemented with a little Pepsi booth and some free beer? Did the conference have to throw us to the ravenous (and irrelevant) megabrands? I posit no.

Because Chevy and Sobe and Monster Energy didn't just bring their booth babes to Austin. They brought their social media managers. And at the other end, so did all the shitty little startups that want to get picked up by "early adopters" because normal people are too smart to buy into their ill-conceived ideas about how the Internet should bottleneck through them. They want bloggers and better websites and startups to use their shortcodes or their microsites or their 2d barcodes. The new people all want to sell things to the old people and to each other.

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